Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Living In Fear!

I forget how long ago it was that I learned that Les Daniels, the author of many a tome on comic books including the seminal volume Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, had written a similar book recounting the development of terror in popular culture. I do know that I was very pleased to stumble across a copy of Living In Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media at a local bookseller. While the book was more well-thumbed than I usually buy, I knew that this one is hard to get so I made off with it.

Now at long last I've given it a solid reading straight through and I sadly find it an uneven reading experience. Daniels is expansive in his definition of terror or horror as it is often called. He begins with the ancient myths and works his way steadily through history, counting all manner of monsters from all sorts of sources as influences. He's doubtless correct, but sometimes he's so inclusive it's difficult to get a feel for the parameters he has established for the book.

A sense of that begins to develop with the discussion of the Gothic horrors of vintage writers such as Robert Walpole, Edmund Lewis and others. When we finally get to Mary Wollstencraft Shelley and her seminal novel Frankenstein, the influences are firmly established is broad. Daniels goes on to focus on important American writers such as Poe and Lovecraft. 

Then he turns his attention to films with obvious focus on the epic Warner Brothers classic monster flicks along with just about every other significant "horror" film you've ever heard of. He brings this 1970's analysis of the genre right up to the then present day talking about such efforts as The Night Stalker and The Exorcist.

Also Daniels offers up samples of horror stories from across the centuries with tales by Poe, Lovecraft, Bierce, and Machen among others. There's even a vintage EC Comic story by Jack Davis included.

Daniels is sweeping in his coverage, and in spots allows himself to drill down in some detail, but mostly this book becomes a catalog of important and or famous horror stories and films a fan should want to see. That's not unimportant in a book which pre-dates the internet with its avalanche of information on the genre, but it was not what I expected really. I anticipated more analysis, more insight and there is some, but just not as much as I'd have preferred.

That said, this is still a book I'm glad I found and read. 

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